Enuresis (bedwetting) is the involuntary discharge of urine during sleep. It is called bedwetting after the age by which bladder control should have been established. In children, voluntary control of urination is usually present by the age of five. Nevertheless, nocturnal enuresis is present in about 15 to 20 percent of otherwise healthy 5-year-old children, 7 percent of healthy 7-year-olds, 5 percent of healthy 10-year-olds, 2 to 3 percent of 12 to 14-year-olds and 1 to 2 percent of normal children at age 15. Enuresis is slightly more common in boys than in girls and occurs more frequently in the first born child.
Alternative Names of Enuresis are: Bed Wetting.
Complications of Enuresis
Although frustrating, bed-wetting without a physical cause doesn't pose any health risks. The guilt and embarrassment a child feels about wetting the bed can lead to low self-esteem, however.
Rashes on the bottom and genital area may be an issue as well — especially if your child sleeps in wet underwear. To prevent a rash, help your child rinse his or her bottom and genital area every morning. It also may help to cover the affected area with a petroleum ointment at bedtime.
Causes of Enuresis
No one knows for sure what causes bed-wetting, but various factors may play a role.
A small bladder. Your child's bladder may not be developed enough to hold urine produced during the night.
Inability to recognize a full bladder. If the nerves that control the bladder are slow to mature, a full bladder may not rouse your child from sleep — especially if your child is a deep sleeper.
A hormone imbalance. During childhood, some kids don't produce enough anti-diuretic hormones (ADH) to slow nighttime urine production.
Stress. Stressful events — such as becoming a big brother or sister, starting a new school, or sleeping away from home — may trigger bed-wetting.
Urinary tract infection. A urinary tract infection can make it difficult for your child to control urination. Signs and symptoms may include bed-wetting, daytime accidents, frequent urination and pain during urination.
Sleep apnea. Sometimes bed-wetting is a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which the child's breathing is interrupted during sleep — often because of inflamed or enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Other signs and symptoms may include snoring, frequent ear and sinus infections, sore throat, and daytime drowsiness.
Diabetes. For a child who's usually dry at night, bed-wetting may be the first sign of diabetes. Other signs and symptoms may include passing large amounts of urine at once, increased thirst, and fatigue and weight loss in spite of a good appetite.
Chronic constipation. A lack of regular bowel movements may lead to reduced bladder capacity, which can cause bed-wetting at night.
Anatomical defect. Rarely, bed-wetting is related to a defect in the child's neurological system or urinary system.
Signs & Symptoms of Enuresis
Bed-wetting is characterized by involuntary urination at night.
Most kids are fully toilet trained by age 4, but there's really no target date for developing complete bladder control. By age 5, bed-wetting remains a problem for only about 15 percent of children. Between 8 and 11 years of age, fewer than 5 percent of youngsters are still bed-wetting.
Diagnosis of Enuresis
Your child will need a physical exam. Depending on the circumstances, urine tests may be done to check for signs of an infection or diabetes. If the doctor suspects an anatomical abnormality or other problem, your child may need X-rays or other imaging studies of the kidneys or bladder.
Treatments of Enuresis
Most children outgrow bed-wetting on their own. If there's a family history of bed-wetting, your child will probably stop bed-wetting around the age the parent stopped bed-wetting.
Generally, your child will be your doctor's guide to the level of necessary treatment. If your child isn't especially bothered or embarrassed by an occasional wet night, less aggressive treatments may be all that's needed. However, if your grade schooler is terrified about wetting the bed on a sleepover, he or she may be more motivated to try additional treatments.
These small, battery-operated devices — available without a prescription at most pharmacies — connect to a moisture-sensitive pad on your child's pajamas or bedding. When the pad senses wetness, the alarm goes off. Ideally, the moisture alarm sounds just as your child begins to urinate — in time to help your child wake, stop the urine stream and get to the toilet. If your child is a heavy sleeper, another person may need to listen for the alarm.
If you try a moisture alarm, give it plenty of time. It often takes at least two weeks to see any type of response and up to 12 weeks to enjoy dry nights. Moisture alarms are highly effective, carry a low risk of relapse or side effects, and may provide a better long-term solution than medication does.
If all else fails, your child's doctor may prescribe medication to stop bed-wetting. Various types of medication can:
Slow nighttime urine production. The drug desmopressin acetate (DDAVP) boosts levels of a natural hormone (anti-diuretic hormone, or ADH) that forces the body to make less urine at night. The medication is available as a pill or nasal spray. However, the nasal spray isn't recommended for the treatment of bed-wetting because this form of the medication stays active for much longer, which can increase the risk of serious side effects. Although DDAVP has few side effects, the most serious is a seizure. This can happen if the medication is accompanied by too many fluids. For this reason, don't use this medication on nights when your child has had a lot of fluids. Additionally, don't give your child this medication if he or she has a headache, has vomited or feels nauseous.
Calm the bladder. If your child has a small bladder, an anticholinergic drug such as oxybutynin (Ditropan) or hyoscyamine (Levsin) may help reduce bladder contractions and increase bladder capacity. Side effects may include dry mouth and facial flushing.
Change a child's sleeping and waking pattern. The antidepressant imipramine (Tofranil) may provide bed-wetting relief by changing a child's sleeping and waking pattern. The medication may also increase the amount of time a child can hold urine or reduce the amount of urine produced. Imipramine has been associated with mood changes and sleep problems. Caution is essential when using this medication, because an overdose could be fatal. Because of the serious nature of these side effects, this medication is generally recommended only when other treatments have failed.
Sometimes a combination of medications is most effective. There are no guarantees, however, and medication doesn't cure the problem. Bed-wetting typically resumes when the medication is stopped.
When to seek Medical Advice
Most children outgrow bed-wetting on their own — but some need a little help. In other cases, bed-wetting may indicate an underlying condition that needs medical attention.
Consult your child's doctor if:
Your child still wets the bed after age 5 or 6
Your child starts to wet the bed after a period of being dry at night
The bed-wetting is accompanied by painful urination, unusual thirst, pink urine or snoring